Musing on Living a Long, Vibrant, and Productive Life
Reading Time: 19 minutes
When I was eleven years old, my step-uncle pinched the baby fat on my cheeks, cackled, and said that a chubby mama’s boy would never get girls. I cried all weekend, but looking back, I’m grateful for what he did.
The pain of that experience motivated me to prove my step-uncle wrong and sparked an early interest in health and fitness. As a teenager, I worked out regularly and educated myself on the basic principles of nutrition. I mostly wanted to “get swole” so that I could impress my guy friends and attract girls. That guiding motivation stayed with me until my mid-twenties.
But as I’ve gotten older, my health goals have changed. Instead of wanting to build the optimal beach body, I’m now much more interested in “feeling good” and living a long life that allows me to surf into my 60s and pick up my future grandchildren with ease.
And over the last two years, I’ve spent a lot of time updating my health knowledge, adding new tools to the quiver, and reorienting my life to be aligned with my new goals. I’ve run experiments on myself and documented what I’ve learned along the way.
This article is an attempt to codify and share everything I’ve learned. Below, you’ll find everything from my guiding principles for health, to how I’ve improved my sleep, to things that have helped me with anxiety and injuries, to what I do to feel good during the day. It’s a long post, so I encourage you to skip around to the sections that are most relevant to your life.
- I. Health Beliefs and Principles
- II. Feeling Good During the Day
- III. Getting High-Quality Sleep
- IV. Grappling with Anxiety
- V. Dealing with Pain and Injuries
- VI. Looking Inside with Blood Work
- VII. Exercise and Supplements
- VIII. Random Health Nuggets
🛑 Before we dive in: Nothing in this article is medical advice and/or a recommendation for you to try anything. I’m just a guy on the internet trying to improve his own health and sharing what I’m learning along the way. For anything involving your body, definitely DYOR.
I. Health Beliefs and Principles
Health can mean many things, but for me, it means living a long, energy-filled life with a high degree of satisfaction. My principles for living such a life include:
- Get the fundamentals right. I’ll have 90% of the health results I’m looking for if I get out in the sun, drink enough water, sleep well, exercise regularly, minimize stress, and spend time with people I enjoy. So instead of obsessing about micro-optimizations that won’t make a big difference, I focus on ensuring that I’m doing the fundamentals on a regular basis.
- Consistency > perfection. I believe that having a “pretty good” routine that I can follow consistently is much better than having a “perfect” routine that is so burdensome that I eventually quit. The consistent effort toward something that’s not perfect will compound to better long-term outcomes than a perfect routine that I only do for a short period of time.
- Simplicity > complexity. I have an irregular schedule and am away from home 30-40% of the year, so I prefer to have a simple routine that I can follow wherever I am, instead of a complex routine that is difficult to maintain and puts too many constraints on my life.
- Assume the “science” will change. The “science” of health changes all the time and will continue to do so. I do my best to find reliable sources of information and verify that information by running experiments to see what works for me. I’m also open to changing my beliefs as we get new information over time.
- There are no shortcuts or silver bullets. Because being “healthy” is highly dependent on your biology, goals, and circumstances, I don’t believe there are any one-size-fits-all approaches. I also don’t believe that there are any hacks or shortcuts – results come consistent effort.
- No diets and minimal supplements. Specific diets are often fads that are too hard to maintain. With food and nutrition, I stick to basic ideas – eat unprocessed foods, listen to what my body needs, and think of food as fuel for my system. With supplements, I run time-bound experiments and try to take as few as possible.
- No guilt. There will be days or weeks during which I drink too much alcohol, eat too much ice cream, or sit in a chair for too many hours. These deviations from the optimal path are normal and will continue. As long as I’m not going off track for too long and am getting the fundamentals right most of the time, I don’t get angsty about small missteps.
II. Feeling Good During the Day
- Sunlight: I go outside to get sunlight when I wake up. Some days, I’ll go for a 20-minute walk, but other days, I go outside for 2-3 minutes and look at surf videos on Instagram. Andrew Huberman does a great job of explaining the many benefits of getting sunlight in the morning and throughout the day, but honestly, I do it because there’s nothing better than starting the day with the sounds of birds chirping and sunshine on my face.
- No phone for 30 minutes. I used to have a fancy morning routine that took many hours. It served me for many years, but eventually became too time-consuming. So now, I commit to not looking at my phone for the first 30 minutes of the day, and instead, I go for a walk or read a book. With this simple routine, I’m much less frazzled/foggy when starting work.
- Caffeine. I drink ~2 coffees every day. I consume my first cup 30-45 minutes after waking up. Since high-quality espresso makes me feel better than regular coffee, I start with an espresso with hot water made in a Breville machine (one of my favorite purchases in adulthood). I usually have my second cup around noon. Outside of coffee, I’ve found that drinking a morning tea made of fresh ginger, turmeric, cayenne, and lemon gives me a ton of energy. If I drink that tea and wait ~2 hours to drink my first coffee, I usually get a smoother boost in energy from the coffee.
- Nootropics. I’ve experimented with many different nootropics for cognitive enhancement, including Alpha GPC, Thesis, Mucuna Pruriens, and Alpha Brain. None of these products worked for me. Most of them gave me a noticeable cognitive boost, but it was often “jittery” and lead to a headache 2-4 hours after taking the product. So the performance boost was not worth the side effects. The only nootropic that has worked reasonably well for me is MagicMind, which I take with my morning coffee. It extends the boost of caffeine, giving me a longer period of focus that is smoother and more enjoyable than if I just drink a coffee.
- Breakfast. I have no hard rules for breakfast, but I’ve learned that eating a large meal or a meal with a lot of carbs makes me very sluggish and unable to focus for a few hours. I don’t keep a regular fasting schedule and generally eat breakfast when I feel hungry. My breakfast is typically very simple, like an avocado with sea salt, 3 eggs, or a protein shake with milk, banana, whey protein, and cinnamon.
- Snacks. I’m more of an all-day snacker than a 3-meal-a-day eater, so I try to stock my house with snacks that are reasonably healthy. That includes things like berries, apples, vegetables with hummus, and unsalted nuts. That said, I also love crunchy foods and will often dive into a bag of pretzels or crackers, especially if I’m stressed out. I try to limit my intake to 1-2 servings of unhealthy snacks. I’ve also found that the only antidote to avoiding unhealthy snacking is to keep certain things I enjoy like chips, chocolate, and other dopamine-releasing foods out of my home.
- Post-Lunch Walks. I often feel a sizable drop in energy from 1-4pm, especially if I eat a large lunch. One hack for minimizing these lulls has been to take a 10-minute walk after I eat a meal in the afternoon. Getting sun and letting my food digest with some activity seems to reduce sluggishness. I will also often exercise or surf during these afternoon lulls and return to work in the evening when I get another round of energy.
- Napping. I have never been able to nap, even when I’m exhausted. But my life changed when I found this Earth Peace Binaural Beats Sleep Track. If I’m feeling tired or need to recharge, I lay down and listen to this for 30 minutes with an Alaska Bear silk eye mask on. If I’m really tired, I’ll fall asleep. But most of the time, what happens is that my brain and body become completely relaxed. And while the buzz in my brain and body slowly dial down, I’m able to continue thinking clearly about what’s been going on that day. At the end of the 30-minute session, it feels like I’ve slept for 2 hours. I have no idea if this track will work for other people, but it has changed my life and made me very interested in how using sounds that are tailored to a person’s brain chemistry can help improve lives. I have also had mild success with yoga nidra for short mid-day recharge sessions.
- Dinner. My dinners vary widely, but if I’m going to binge on carbs, this is the time I do it. That said, I usually eat a plate that’s 1/3 meat, 1/3 vegetables, and 1/3 carbs. I’ve also found that eating at least 3 hours before bed helps me to avoid any sleep disturbances, so since I usually go to bed between 9-11pm, I eat dinner from 6-7pm every night.
- Mitigating hangovers. Sometimes, I drink too much alcohol. Oops. There is no antidote to hangovers other than not drinking alcohol, but I’ve found that my hangovers are less severe when I drink electrolytes while drinking, before sleep, and the morning after. I use Liquid IV packs. They taste good but also have added sugars that I probably don’t need.
- Intermittent fasting. I have never been able to stick with an intermittent fasting protocol. The main challenge is that I’m not an overly scheduled or routine-oriented person, so I tend to eat when I want to eat. I do think that some form of fasting could be good for modulating my energy levels during the day and plan to run more fasting experiments.
III. Getting High-Quality Sleep
Tracking my sleep with an Oura ring has been invaluable for learning about what I can do to get higher-quality sleep and to keep me accountable for doing so. The Oura ring is great because you don’t notice you have it on. And because the battery lasts for almost a week, you don’t have to worry about charging it all the time like you do with an Apple Watch. The Oura Ring comes with a simple dashboard that tells you about your sleep metrics and patterns. Here’s some of what I’ve learned over the last 2 years of using the ring.
- I need ~7.5 hours of sleep to feel well-rested and energetic. On any given night, I get between 6-8.5 hours of sleep, with an average of 7 hours and 55 minutes for 2022.
- For some reason, I actually feel better if I get 6 hours of sleep than if I get only 7 hours. I have no idea why that is. Just something I noticed.
- Alcohol is the biggest enemy of high-quality sleep and feeling well-rested the next day. Even having a few drinks significantly reduces my body’s recovery metrics and increases my heart rate during the night. If I have 4+ drinks, I often wake up at 2-3am, likely due to a blood sugar spike, and am unable to get back to sleep. Those nights also come with a massive drop in my recovery metrics and less REM sleep. Even when I get enough sleep, I feel sluggish and unfocused the day after I have more than 2 drinks.
- When I’m overtraining in the gym or working too hard, my sleep recovery metrics decline. That means I feel more sluggish the next day, so I try to avoid pushing myself to the point where my sleep suffers.
- Getting to bed around the same time every night (9-10:30pm for me) is very helpful for promoting high-quality sleep. If I go to sleep after 11pm, I often do not get enough sleep as I wake up around the same time every day, regardless of when I go to sleep.
- My resting heart rate can increase 20-30% at altitudes of 5,000-8,000 feet.
- Heavy meals less than 3 hours before bed increase my resting heart rate during the night.
- Eating sugar less than 2 hours before bed makes it harder to fall and stay asleep.
- The Oura ring often knows that I’m getting sick before I feel any symptoms. I’ll see a drop in recovery and an increase in my core body temperature about a day before I feel sick. I use this information to load up on electrolytes, Vitamin C, and to start taking it easy so that I can mitigate the severity of the sickness.
Outside of the Oura ring, there are a few products that have helped me get better sleep.
- Eye Mask. I won’t go anywhere without my Alaska Bear eye mask. The eyemask helps ensure that I am not disturbed by variances in the light in my sleeping environment. I also use it on planes or to rest on couches when I try to nap. I have four masks around my house so I always have one on hand.
- Ear Plugs. If I’m traveling, I bring Mack’s Pillow Soft Silicone earplugs in the event there is a lot of noise in my sleeping environment. These earplugs are super comfortable (even for side sleepers like me) and mold perfectly to your ear. They have been a lifesaver when I’m in an Airbnb that’s near a noisy bar or when I want to fully tune out my environment.
- Eight sleep pod pro cover. Eight Sleep is a cover that goes over your mattress and that helps regulate your temperature during the night. For the first 6 months I had it, I did not think it was worth the money. But especially as I’ve spent more time away from home without it, I’ve come to see it as a super valuable sleep resource. It basically will cool your body early in the night to help you fall and stay asleep. It gradually warms you up during the night. It also tracks your sleep metrics, which can help inform you about how you’re sleeping, but I don’t use that feature since I have the Oura ring, which I prefer for general sleep tracking.
- CBD/THC edible: I live in California and have easy access to CBD/THC. I sometimes take a 2:1 CBD/THC gummy about 1.5 hours before I want to sleep. My optimal dose is about 5mg CBD / 2.5mg THC. I’ve noticed that this dose allows me to feel much more relaxed before going to bed without feeling high or anxious like when I use pure THC. I use this as a tool in the quiver when I want to catch up on sleep or am in a more anxious period of life.
- New Mattress: I had a Helix Midnight Luxe mattress for the first half of 2022, and I consistently woke up with back, neck, and shoulder pain. I ended up switching to a Tuft & Needle Hybrid Mattress, and it’s been so much better. I no longer wake up stiff or in pain. Mattresses are a real pain because it’s impossible to find reliable information on them, and how you feel about a mattress is super dependent on your body and preferences. So all I can say is that the switch worked really well for me, and I’m glad I did it.
- Pillows. I’ve tried like 10 pillows this year, and none of the highly-rated ones worked for me. I often woke up with neck pain. I eventually realized the best pillow for the shape of my neck and sleeping position is something that has a really low height. I’ve had the most success with this thin sleeping pillow. As with mattresses, the best pillow for you is highly dependent on your body and how you sleep.
- White-noise machine. I’ve had some success with this Yogasleep white-noise sound machine. I mostly use it if there are noises in my environment.
IV. Grappling with Anxiety
- Cold showers. If I’m feeling anxious or fatigued and do not have time to lay down and listen to a binaural beats track, I take a 3-minute cold shower. It’s unpleasant, but it wakes me up and gives me a boost that makes the next few hours of my day more pleasant. Some people have ice baths and formal practices around using cold therapy, but I’ve never felt the need to make it a regular practice. It’s more of a tool that I use when I think it will be helpful.
- Lifting weights and moving. If I lift weights three times a week, I have higher baseline happiness and more resilience to endure negative events and other stressors in my life. If I start feeling down, I’ve trained myself to go to the gym, take long walks, and do various forms of cardio that help prevent me from falling into a longer-lasting negative state.
- Breathing exercises. I’ve had a lot of success using simple breathing techniques to regulate my nervous system when I’m feeling anxious. The things that have worked best for me are 4, 7, 8 breathing and box breathing. Both techniques take 1-2 minutes, and while they aren’t magic pills, they do help calm down my nervous system and reduce my levels of anxiety.
V. Dealing with Pain and Injuries
As I’ve gotten older and picked up more physical sports like skiing and surfing, I’ve suffered from more frequent pains and injuries. Being in pain often ruins my mood and ability to focus. Early in 2022, my pain got so bad that it sent me into a deep depression. So I spent a lot of time figuring out how I can live a more pain-free life while remaining very active and physical. My biggest problem areas have been my back, neck, and shoulders. I experimented with various healing modalities to find enduring relief.
- Physical Therapy: I went to two physical therapists for back, neck, and shoulder pain. One of them was significantly better than the other (personalized support, better equipment, etc.), but neither of them solved the source of my issues. Generally, PTs seem to focus more on treating symptoms rather than solving root causes. For example, if you have neck pain, they give you exercises for your neck. The problem is that your neck pain does not always mean that you have a problem with your neck. The pain may be caused by a torn muscle in your lower back, so if focus on neck exercises and don’t fix your lower back, you’re not solving the root problem. So while physical therapists have taught me valuable stretches, they did not solve my core problems. And eventually, the cost was not worth the benefit.
- Acupuncture: Acupuncture has a bit of a “woo woo” reputation, but I think there is something to it even if “the science” has not figured out the exact mechanisms through which it works. I went to a number of sessions with a highly-regarded acupuncturist who used a combination of needles and cupping. While I enjoyed the experience and felt relaxed for a day or two after each session, the work did not provide lasting relief for my ailments. I still think it’s worth a try if you find a good person.
- Chiropractor: I’ve been to many chiropractors, and they all seem to have two problems:
- ‘To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail’ – Most chiropractors are trained to believe that your pain/discomfort stems from subluxations in your back and spinal cord. So when they’re diagnosing your problems and treating you, they have a narrow focus that can miss the root cause of your problem, similar to the problem faced by physical therapists.
- Incentives. Chiropractors make money by treating you, so they’re naturally incentivized to treat you for as long as possible. That does not mean they don’t want to solve your problem, but they do make more money if you see them for longer. Most chiropractors I’ve seen have recommended 20-30 sessions of treatment, which is expensive and far more frequent than other healing modalities I explored.
- Massage: When I get a good massage every month, my general back pain and discomfort are somewhat ameliorated. I had to try five different places to find a person that gave me a good massage, but it was time well-invested once I found a good person. I find that 90-minute sessions are much more helpful than 60-minute sessions. My current masseuse does Thai massage, and while that’s my preferred style, other forms of massage can be helpful.
- Active Release Therapy (ART): When I had lost all hope with my back, neck, and shoulder pain, a stranger recommended I see a guy who does active release therapy. The guy is a former rugby player who suffered a bad injury. Doctors said he would never play sports again and needed back surgery, but he ignored them and found an ART specialist that healed him fully in 6 months. ART is basically an extremely painful massage that breaks up adhesions in the body that form when you get injured and that cause imbalances in the body. I was skeptical at first, but this dude basically saved me. After four sessions, my pain was gone, and most importantly, I had hope that I would not live with lifelong pain. What is remarkable about what he does is that he solves the root issue causing the problems. For example, I got hit in the head by a surfboard and could not move my neck for a week. During the session, he figured out that my trap had been hyperextended and was pulling on my neck, which was totally fine despite being the place where I felt the pain. He broke up the adhesion in my trap, and I was surfing later that day. I now see this guy whenever I have acute problems, and it keeps working like magic.
- Daily stretching. I stretch many times a day, sometimes following a specific program, but often just focusing on the areas that feel like they need it most in my body. Most of my stretching focuses on counterbalancing the negative effects of sitting in a chair for too many hours a day and on increasing flexibility in areas in which I’m prone to injury. The specific exercises are mostly those recommended by physical therapists and my ART specialist. The protocol that’s working for me best right now is doing this 12-minute Foundations routine, which focuses on alleviating back pain by strengthening the lower back, hamstrings, and glutes. I also have found that stretching in a sauna after working out works very well for me. I also do this exercise to strengthen the medial glute.
VI. Looking Inside with Blood Work
I get blood work done every six months to measure my health in a more quantitative way over time and to identify potential issues that I may not feel on a daily basis. I take tests from two different companies, Thorne and InsideTracker. The idea behind these blood tests is that if I check in with my body twice a year, I will be able to identify and mitigate certain issues that I can only see and learn about through this type of testing.
Thorne Biological Age Test. This test is $95, and it tells you the biological age of your body and vital organs using various biomarkers. It’s a fairly simple blood test, but very affordable and a good baseline for understanding how various activities and lifestyle habits may be helping or hurting your body. I took my first test when I was 28.5 years old and learned that, on average, I had the biological age of a 24-year-old.
I felt pretty good about that, but after looking at the more granular data, it was clear that some parts of my body were doing better than others. For example, my lipid age was tracking close to a normal rate of aging and was worse than other parts of my body because I had elevated LDL cholesterol. That data point inspired me to learn more about LDL, its risks, and how to lower it.
At the same time, I learned that my kidneys were doing quite well relative to other people my age, so I did not focus on working on the biomarkers that contributed to that score.
When I took this test for a second time 1.5 years later, my biological age actually decreased. I now had the biological age of a 23.7-year-old, even though I was almost thirty. One way to think about that is that I was “aging backward,” which was helpful data for understanding the efficacy of some of he improvements I had been making in my health over the last 18 months.
Lowering my LDL cholesterol and improving my metabolic health with a more regular exercise routine were two of the big factors in reducing my biological age on the second test. These results made me feel good about the measurable results of the lifestyle changes I made.
InsideTracker comprehensive Test. The other test I take is a more comprehensive test from InsideTracker. This one costs ~$500, so it’s pretty pricey and something I only do once a year. I take this one because it provides data on a more comprehensive suite of biomarkers and detailed recommendations about what I can do to improve the at-risk areas.
For me, InsideTracker reinforced the need for me to work on my LDL cholesterol and identified other potential at-risk areas like my liver enzymes. I also learned good things, like that I have strong levels of testosterone, normal levels of inflammation, and healthy levels of cortisol.
I have not taken my second InsideTracker test yet, but when I do, it will be helpful to see how my biomarkers have changed over the course of a year in which I tried to improve my health.
Blood tests won’t tell you everything you need to know, but I’m encouraged that regular blood work with keep me on a better trendline than if I did no testing. The data keeps me informed and accountable.
One note about blood tests is that you won’t be able to use insurance. Sadly, the medical system still makes it difficult to get regular blood tests with insights that you can understand. And understanding the data you’re getting is critical for improving your health, so it’s worth paying an outside company if your regular doctor won’t do this for you.
VII. Exercise and Supplements
I don’t have a ton to say about exercise because there are so many different approaches you can take depending on your age, abilities, goals, and so on. The most important thing is that you develop a consistent routine that has a good balance of aerobic and anaerobic training. As for my routine, it mostly includes:
- Surfing 3-4x a week. Surfing is an activity I really enjoy and also happens to be good exercise. One thing I noticed is that if I’m surfing often and don’t train in other ways, I’m very prone to neck and back pain. Part of that is from the strain of surfing, but it’s also related to not working muscle groups that are not used during surfing.
- Weight training 1-2x a week. I worked out consistently in the gym from 16-23, and somewhere along the way, I stopped lifting weights. This year, I fixed that blunder and started going to the gym a couple of times per week. My routine is usually 5-10 minutes on a stair master or bike to warm up, a series of 6-8 exercises focused on specific muscle groups, and a 10-minute sauna session for stretching.
- Future Fitness. For 6 months this year, I used Future Fitness, which is an app where you get a personal trainer who designs a workout for you that you can do in the app. It’s $150/month, so it’s not cheap. My workouts focused on improving my strength and mobility for areas that would help my surfing. On the whole, I really enjoyed the experience of customizing my goals with a trainer and having a pre-designed workout that I could do at home. I paused these workouts in the fall to focus more on strength training but will return to the app when I have another goal where I need more hands-on help.
- Other. Outside of surfing and weight training, I go on regular walks, swim laps, and occasionally go to yoga, pilates, or cycling classes. I always enjoy these activities, but they are not a regular part of my routine.
In October 2022, I also did a modified version of the protocol outlined in From Geek to Freak. I hit my target of gaining 6 pounds of lean muscle in a month. The big learning is that doing one-set-to-failure lifts with a 5/5 repetition cadence is a very efficient way to build muscle.
Supplements. I keep my supplement stack small for many reasons, including cost, adherence, ease of transport, and so on. Here’s what I take daily. I will slowly add or subtract from the stack over time as I learn new information and run more experiments.
Current supplement stack:
- Whey protein: 25g protein + 5g glutamine for post-workout recovery.
- Creatine: 5mg creatine monohydrate for cognition and muscle development.
- Omega 3: DHA and EPA for brain health/mood regulation.
- Electrolytes: Take when traveling, sick, or drinking alcohol.
- Amino energy: Caffeine + amino acids + vitamins to increase workout performance.
Previously, I’ve tried many other supplements that I’ve decided not to keep in the primary stack because they were not effective or essential for me. Those include Alpha GPC (cognitive enhancement), Magnesium (for sleep), Melatonin (for sleep), L-theanine (for sleep), probiotics (gut health), Vitamin B Complex (for stress), and many more fallen soldiers.
One thing to keep in mind is that the supplement industry is mostly unregulated (products are not FDA-approved), so it’s important to find reputable companies with high-quality products. I buy most of my supplements from Thorne and Momentous, but again, DYOR.
VIII. Random Health Nuggets
- Antibiotics destroy the gut microbiome. So when you cycle on antibiotics, it’s helpful to consume lots of probiotics to help maintain a healthy gut and avoid new problems.
- Many sunscreens have potentially harmful chemicals in them, so try to find brands that use only the essential ingredients (I use Badger).
- It’s better to use heat instead of ice for injuries, except for when you have inflammation.
- Turmeric is a natural anti-inflammatory; Vitamin C is a natural laxative; Ginger is great for kitchen burns; Icy drinks make you bloated.
- Nicotine, when consumed through specific mediums, is a relatively safe and effective cognitive enhancement tool. It seems like gum is one of the less harmful mediums.
- Because processed foods are less filling than non-processed food, you often end up eating more and thus consume more calories when eating processed foods.
- Eating something to “sober up” does not work. If you drink alcohol before eating, the alcohol is already in your bloodstream, so eating food will only blunt the effects of unprocessed alcohol or additional alcohol you eat by slowing down the rate of absorption. But if you eat something prior to or while drinking alcohol, then that will slow down the absorption.
- We don’t know all that much about hangovers or how to cure them. And it’s possible that certain alcohols may lead to worse hangovers than others.